Thursday, October 12, 2023

1980 - Balough Wins Schaefer

Gary Balough took the controversial "Batmobile" to victory in the annual Schaefer 200 at Syracuse. 

Syracuse, N.Y. (October 12,1980) - Performing almost as was expected, Gary Balough and his controversial “ground effects” modified stock car, completely dominated the 53-car Schaefer 200-km field Sunday afternoon at the New York State Fairgrounds as the 33-year-old veteran cruised to his record fourth victory in this $125,000 event.

Taking the lead at the outset of the 125-mile race, Balough easily pulled away from his competition on restarts following several minor tangles on the rain-slicked track. He led the first 72 circuits before being called into the pits for his fuel stop, retook the lead from former winner, Buzzie Reutimann of Zephyrhills, Fla., on the 100th lap and went on to the victory.

Despite his seeming ease in gaining the victory, it wasn't exactly a cakewalk for Balough who also won 1976 through ‘78.

“The car ran well all day,” Balough said. “But I was worried about my pit stop. I wanted to come in a lot sooner than my pit crew wanted. But they wanted to get down to about five gallons of gas, so we pitted later than the others.”

With only a few laps remaining in the race, Balough's car began skipping on a cylinder.

“Yea, it was running on only seven jugs,” said NASCAR driver, Jerry Cook, who was on a radio in Balough's crew.

The car was equipped with a 467 cubic inch Chevrolet engine, considered one of the best in racing.

For his victory, Balough carted away a record $26,557 in prize, contingency and lap money.

“This is my biggest win,” he said. “But it hurts me to hear the fans boo me and say bad things about my team. This effort started five months ago with some good men," he continued. "It was a team effort that got us here with a well-built car. We could have put another $25,000 into this car, but we didn't have the money. It did cost about $30,000 to build.

Ever since Balough tested his car on the track Wednesday, he proved it was the fastest. Following time trials Thursday, during which Balough set a track record in gaining the pole starting position, several other drivers performed overnight sheet metal jobs on their cars trying to copy Balough’s design.

For many it helped. Cars piloted by the first five finishers - Balough, Reutimann, Frank Cozze of Wind Gap, N.J., Geoff Bodine of Pleasant Garden, N.C. and Ken Brenn Jr. of Warren, N.J. - all had ground effects-type of body styles.

In a way, it was ironic that defending Schaefer winner, Jack Johnson of Duanesburg, finished sixth, the first conventional modified across the wire. Before the race he had said of the new ground effects cars, “I’m going to do the best with what I have. If I finish second to a GE car, then I'll know I had the best of conventional modifieds.”

After the race, however, Balough tried to deemphasize the ground effects in his win.

“The ground effects was only about 10 percent of my speed,” he said. “We won because we had a combination of everything working together: the builders, the pit crew, the car and the driver. But what we had going for us was the aerodynamics of the car. Air is free, you know. It doesn't cost money like a motor and there were a lot of them out there besides mine.”

Balough had a stellar crew with his car. Builder Kenny Weld is a former top sprint driver and race car innovator who said, “Don Brown, who is one of the top Indianapolis-car fabricators, really had the ground effects idea for the car. He did most of the work with me,” Weld said.

Balough's pit crew, in addition to Cook, also had Daytona and Talladega 500 winner, Pete Hamilton, calling the signals. “Pete was another big point in the win,” Balough said.

This ninth edition of the Schaefer race will always be remembered as the ground effects year. For 1981, Schaefer officials indicated that rules will be made to eliminate the aerodynamics of dirt modifieds.

The start of the race was delayed almost an hour by a rain shower that made the track slick. On the second lap two cars tangled and on two subsequent restarts more tangles occurred as drivers fought for advantages in the tightly grouped cars.

Behind Balough, the race was a battle for every spot on back. The first 12 cars all finished on the winner’s lap with 13 thru 20th only a lap down; 23 cars were running at the finish.

The race was marred by 47 laps of caution flags.

Over 30,000 fans, 15,000 in the jammed grandstand, watched the race from every nook and cranny on a cold and windy day. The infield of the New York State Fairgrounds’ one-mile oval was filled to capacity with campers and fans watching the race from the fences.

Results –

1. Gary Balough
2. Buzzie Reutimann
3. Frank Cozze
4. Geoff Bodine
5. Ken Brenn, Jr.
6. Jack Johnson
7. Charlie Rudolph
8. Dave Leckonby
9. Kenny Brightbill
10.Mike McLaughlin
11 Merv Treichler
12.C.D. Coville
13.Alan Johnson
14.Chuck Ely
15.Win Slavin
16.Tommy Corellis
17.Jay Strong
18.Ed Lynch
19.Davey Moore
20.Dick Larkin
21.Ron Tobias
22.Ivan Little
23.Gary Golub

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